The latest on the coronavirus pandemic around the U.S. and the world.

After President Trump retweeted a claim that discounted the coronavirus death toll in the United States over the weekend, Twitter took down the post that spread false information on Sunday.

The tweet was originally posted by “Mel Q,” a follower of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon, which posits that the president is battling a cabal of Satan-worshiping child sex traffickers. It was copied from a Facebook post and claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had “quietly updated the Covid number to admit that only 6%” of reported deaths – or about 9,000 – “actually died from COVID.”

The rest were people who “had 2-3 other serious illnesses,” said the tweet, which has since been replaced with a message saying it “is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules.” A Twitter spokesperson said the tweet violated the company’s COVID-19 misinformation policy.

The claim appears to be a reference to the CDC’s Aug. 26 update to its death data and resources page, which noted that in 6% of reported deaths, COVID-19 “was the only cause mentioned.” However, that does not mean only 6% of reported deaths are attributed to the virus – it means 94 percent of people had at least one additional factor contributing to their deaths.

The president also retweeted a link to an article by far-right Gateway Pundit – which remains on his page – containing the “Mel Q” tweet and, using the 6% figure to attack members of Trump’s own coronavirus task force.

“So let’s get this straight – based on the recommendation of doctors Fauci and Birx the US shut down the entire economy based on 9,000 American deaths due entirely to the China coronavirus?” said the article.

Read the full story here.

Trump administration says it has recovered 70% of relief payments sent to dead people

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration says that it has recovered nearly 70 percent of the government relief payments that went to dead people.

The Government Accountability Office said Monday it had been told by the Treasury Department that nearly 70 percent of the $1.6 billion that had mistakenly gone to dead people had been recovered.

The GAO said it could not immediately verify that amount but said its auditors were working with Treasury to determine the exact number of payments that have been recovered.

Treasury is also considering sending letters to request the return of the remaining outstanding payments, but has not moved forward with that effort yet, GAO said. Treasury said it was delaying that move because Congress is considering legislation that would clarify or make changes to payment eligibility requirements.

The Senate passed a bill in June that would allow the Social Security Administration to share its full death data with the Treasury Department to prevent any future payments to dead people.

The economic stimulus payments included payments of $1,200 for individuals who had income levels low enough to qualify.

What is herd immunity and why are Trump officials pursuing an idea WHO calls ‘dangerous’?

Trump administration officials are starting to implement policies that suggest a “herd immunity” strategy – a controversial approach that involves deliberately allowing the coronavirus to spread to build up population resistance more quickly, while protecting the most vulnerable.

In theory, as the number of survivors with immunity increases to a certain level, the virus’s spread would slow and eventually stop. The only problem: A whole lot of people would die before that point.

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A man sits at a restaurant in Rinkeby district, Rinkeby-Kista borough in Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The coronavirus has taken a disproportionate toll among Sweden’s immigrants. Many in these communities are more likely to live in crowded households and are unable to work remotely. AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

At a news briefing last week, World Health Organization officials called pursuing such a herd immunity strategy “very dangerous.”

“If we think about herd immunity in a natural sense of just letting a virus run, it’s very dangerous,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the covid-19 pandemic. “A lot of people would die.”

Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, said focusing on controlling transmission through public health measures while scientists develop vaccines should be the primary strategy. She pointed out that “there really hasn’t been any infectious disease that has been controlled just by allowing natural immunity to happen.”

The United Kingdom pursued such a strategy early on but abandoned it when officials saw the consequences. Sweden, which pursued a similar strategy, has been heavily criticized by public health officials and infectious-disease experts as reckless – the country has among the highest infection and death rates in the world.

But the idea of “herd immunity” continues to get attention in some quarters: Conservative television host Laura Ingraham has tweeted that pursuing herd immunity was the “only practical way forward.”

Read the full story here.

Fast-food restaurants can’t find workers even amid historic unemployment

Not even the greatest surge in joblessness in 80 years is easing the fast-food industry’s years-old labor shortage.

That’s because the COVID-19 pandemic is making this year’s economic crisis very different than past downturns, when restaurants offered an important lifeline for the newly unemployed. Since service-sector jobs now mean a higher chance of infection, even higher pay isn’t coaxing workers into the kitchen.

Key demographics – like teenagers, at the urging of their parents, and the elderly – are staying away for health and safety reasons, and emergency-enhanced unemployment checks have kept others on the sidelines. Restaurant chains are reporting they’re paying more, but that doesn’t mean they’re filling their staff openings.

“This is the most dramatic shift that’s happened in the modern history of food service” said Aaron Allen, chief strategist at restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates. “It’s the first time people have left the industry and decided not to come back.”

As of mid-July, only about half of the 6.1 million food-service jobs that the U.S. lost in March and April had returned, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Early in the pandemic, restaurant chains pared menus, reduced store hours and cut staff.

While many traditional restaurants continue to struggle as consumers avoid dining rooms, fast-food chains and those with carryout have reported steady improvement this summer as socially distancing consumers opt for drive thrus. Delivery-focused companies like Papa John’s International Inc. and Domino’s Pizza Inc., meanwhile, have thrived.

To capitalize on the rebound, McDonald’s Corp. said in June that it planned to hire 260,000 this summer. Subway, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., Papa John’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. are also looking to expand payrolls on a smaller scale. But the lack of workers is complicating efforts.

Read the full story here.

A Zoom Thanksgiving? Summer could give way to a bleaker fall

As the Summer of COVID draws to a close, many experts fear an even bleaker fall and suggest that American families should start planning for Thanksgiving by Zoom.

Because of the many uncertainties, public health scientists say it’s easier to forecast the weather on Thanksgiving Day than to predict how the U.S. coronavirus crisis will play out this autumn. But school reopenings, holiday travel and more indoor activity because of colder weather could all separately increase transmission of the virus and combine in ways that could multiply the threat, they say.

Here’s one way it could go: As more schools open for in-person instruction and more college students return to campuses, small clusters of cases could widen into outbreaks in late September. Public fatigue over mask rules and other restrictions could stymie efforts to slow these infections.

A few weeks later, widening outbreaks could start to strain hospitals. If a bad flu season peaks in October, as happened in 2009, the pressure on the health care system could result in higher daily death tolls from the coronavirus. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said that scenario is his biggest fear.

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Caitlin Joyce holds family portraits, including her as a child with her parents and a photo of her 90-year-old grandfather, as she poses for a photo at her home Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Edmonds, Wash. Joyce’s family is forging ahead with a Thanksgiving holiday feast in Virginia and she plans to join them. They plan to set up plywood tables on sawhorses in a large garage so they can sit six feet apart where “It will be almost like camping.” AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

One certainty is that the virus will still be around, said Jarad Niemi, a disease-modeling expert at Iowa State University.

“We will not have a vaccine yet and we will not have enough infected individuals for herd immunity to be helpful,” Niemi said.

Fall may feel like a roller coaster of stop-and-start restrictions, as communities react to climbing hospital cases, said University of Texas disease modeler Lauren Ancel Meyers. Everyone should get a flu shot, she said, because if flu spreads widely, hospitals will begin to buckle and “that will compound the threat of COVID.”

“The decisions we make today will fundamentally impact the safety and feasibility of what we can do next month and by Thanksgiving,” Meyers said.

Read the full story here.

Where U.S. small businesses are feeling the most pandemic pain

In Austin, Texas, they’re expecting more closures. In New York, they’re struggling to pay the bills. In San Francisco, they worry that the old normal is never coming back.

Small businesses are often described as the heart of the U.S. economy. They employ about half of the country’s private workforce — and they’ve been hit especially hard by the pandemic. But the impact varies widely from region to region, depending on things like the severity of lockdowns and the local mix of industries.

The latest Small Business Pulse Survey by the Census Bureau, based on responses collected Aug. 9-15, offers a glimpse of how small U.S. firms see their prospects, five months into the worst economic slump in generations. Most said there’s still a way to go before business gets back to normal — if it ever does.

Nationwide, about a third of the companies said they’ve experienced a large negative effect from the pandemic. Roughly one in 20 expect to permanently shut down in the next six months.

A pedestrian wearing a protective mask and gloves walks past Hybrid Driving School in the Queens Borough of New York on May 15. Bloomberg photo by Jeenah Moon

The latter figure is substantially lower than worst-case scenarios outlined when Covid-19 first hit America. That’s testimony to the resilience and adaptability of small firms — and the help they’ve gotten from government initiatives like the Payroll Protection Program, which offered a mixture of grants and loans.

Read the full story here.

New Jersey to resume limited indoor dining

TRENTON, N.J. — Indoor dining will resume Friday with limited capacity in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced.

Restaurants will only be able to have 25% capacity under the new rules, which includes maintaining social distancing between tables. Masks will have to be worn except when eating or drinking.

“Reopening responsibly will help us restore one of our state’s key industries while continuing to make progress against #COVID19,” Murphy wrote in a tweet Monday announcing the updated regulations.

The announcement comes five months after the state shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak in New Jersey has led to more than 190,000 positive cases, with over 14,000 fatalities.

Alaska Fairbanks hockey team all enter quarantine after party

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey team and other student-athletes there are in quarantine or isolation after some tested positive for the coronavirus following an off-campus party.

Administrators say 37 students were placed in isolation after six hockey players and an athlete from another university team tested positive.

University of Fairbanks Chancellor Dan White said athletes from different sports attended the Aug. 22 party. No university staff members were there, but officials said head hockey coach Erik Largen was also quarantined because he had close contact with players.

University officials don’t know if every member of the hockey team was at the party. All the players are quarantined because they were in close contact while working out together.

Swedish health official: Vaccine alone won’t stop pandemic

STOCKHOLM — A Swedish health official said Monday that a COVID-19 vaccine “alone cannot stop the pandemic,” adding “important preventive measures must remain in place for the foreseeable future.”

Johan Carlson, head of the Public Health Agency in Sweden that opted for a much debated COVID-19 approach of keeping large parts of the society open, said a future vaccine “will probably be an important tool” but “not the tool that ultimately solves the problem.”

Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren told a joint press conference that the vaccine should be administered in priority to people over age 70, people in risk groups, and care and nursing staff.

Romanian government begins lifting some restrictions

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian government is lifting several restrictions on daily life imposed earlier to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country, despite consistently rising number of new infections and deaths.

The government announced Monday it will let indoor dining, movie theaters and performing art venues restart on Sept. 1. They must comply with social distancing and mask-wearing rules.

The announcement was made hours before the Romanian parliament was set to vote on a no-confidence motion against the government. It was filed by the strongest opposition party over what they describe as the incompetent response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Since the pandemic took hold in Romania in late February, the country of around 19 million people — including around 4 million who live abroad — has confirmed over 87,500 virus cases and 3,600 deaths.

Nearly 45% of all virus cases and close to 40% of all virus-related deaths were registered since the start of August.

Over the past week, the country has on average tallied over 1,150 new cases and 43 virus-related deaths a day.

Britain links 16 cases to flight from Greece

LONDON — British authorities say 16 coronavirus cases have been linked to a flight that brought U.K. tourists back from Greece, and everyone aboard has been told to isolate themselves for two weeks.

Public Health Wales says it is contacting almost 200 people who were aboard the Tui flight from the Greek island of Zante to Cardiff, Wales, on Tuesday.

Gwen Lowe of Public Health Wales says 30 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the last week among people who returned from Zante on several flights. She says the number is expected to rise.

The U.K. requires people arriving from overseas to quarantine for two weeks, unless they are coming from one of more than 70 countries and territories considered at low risk from the coronavirus. Greece is on the exemption list.

India reports nearly 80,000 new cases in last 24 hours

NEW DELHI — India has registered 78,512 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, maintaining an upward surge.

The Health Ministry on Monday also reported 948 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 64,469.

The surge has raised the country’s total reported virus cases since the pandemic began to more than 3.6 million.

A country of 1.4 billion people, India now has the fastest-growing reported coronavirus caseload of any country in the world, seeing more than 75,000 new cases for five straight days.

The virus has hit India’s major cities and is now fast spreading in smaller towns and rural areas.


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